February 08, 2011

A perfect storm - on Saturn

Quite the electrical storm going these days - from Space Weather:

STORM ON SATURN: A vast thunderstorm that erupted on Saturn during the closing weeks of 2010 is still going strong. “It looks like a comet plowing through Saturn's northern hemisphere,” reports amateur astronomer Christopher Go. He took these pictures on Feb. 5th using an 11-inch Celestron telescope in Cebu City, the Philippines:

saturn20110208.jpg


“The storm is very bright,” says Go. “I spent a few minutes observing it visually (through the eyepiece) and it is very prominent.”

Researchers call the storm the “northern electrostatic disturbance” because (1) it is in Saturn's northern hemisphere and (2) it is strongly charged with lightning. Receivers onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft are picking up radio crackles each time a bolt discharges—much like the static you hear on a car radio when driving through an electrical storm on Earth.

More at NASA's Cassini page:

Lightning Mixes a Dark and Stormy Brew at Saturn
The story of lightning in Saturn’s atmosphere has been building slowly. It first showed up years ago as electrostatic discharges lasting fractions of a second, heard as static and interference in the natural radio signals emitted by Saturn. The visible flash of lightning was harder to capture. Recently, Cassini scientists were excited to obtain long-sought photographic evidence of lightning in the atmosphere. Now, accumulating visible-light and infrared observations are providing fresh evidence that the dark clouds associated with Saturn’s thunderstorms contain dark substances such as soot and other carbon products that are forged when lightning strikes methane.

The same process as has been theorized for the start of life on this planet.

This thing is huge, Earth is 7,926 miles in diameter. Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System and is 74,898 miles in diameter (Jupiter nudges Saturn out of first place at 88,846 miles).

Posted by DaveH at February 8, 2011 05:26 PM
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